After missing a number of weeks due to summer break, we’re back with our weekly posts for Writer Wednesday. Today’s topic is at the request of an author friend of mine, who asked me to share my experiences on how to work with a PA. I’ve had a PA (personal assistant) since pretty early on in my career. Her name is Vicki, and she’s my right hand in my whole publishing career. If you’ve read my books, you’ll see me thanking her in every damn acknowledgment, because I couldn’t do what I do without her. I was just six months in when I found her, and she and I have been a strong team ever since.
So, let’s talk about how to work with a PA as an author and everything it entails. To do that, we need to start at the beginning and that’s the simple question: why and when would you need a PA?
Why and When Do You Need a PA?
At the very core, a PA is meant to take over tasks from you that you don’t necessarily have to do yourself and that free you up to do more important stuff, like writing for example. If you follow that reasoning, the “when” is also relatively easy to answer: as soon as you have tasks that someone else could do just as quick and that would free you up to make more than you pay your PA.
It’s simple math. I pay Vicki per hour, but I make more when I write for a full hour than I pay her per hour to do stuff for me. Every hour she does something I would’ve otherwise had to do myself, I’m investing my money in my career. This is why early on, I decided I wanted a PA, even though I was only six months into my career. Vicki started with just a few hours and that slowly grew into much more.
There is one caveat: you do have to have the money to pay your PA. If you don’t make enough yet where you can afford one, you’re not ready yet. Asking people to do stuff for free for you is rarely a good idea… Do the math for yourself. If you’re spending a lot of time on marketing, for example, you may be better off hiring a PA to do that and dedicate yourself to writing the next book.
What Can a PA Do?
A lot. That’s the short answer. The longer answer is that it depends on how much you trust them, what your own strengths and weaknesses are, and what your PA’s strong points are. I got super lucky with Vicki because she’s not only my PA but a kick ass graphic designer as well, so she can do things for me not every PA can, like make teasers or design covers. In fact, we both differentiate between the two. She bills me per hour for PA activities, but I pay per cover/teaser/graphic like everyone else.
But let’s make a non-exhaustive list of tasks a PA could do:
- update your FB page
- post in your FB group, either under their own account or under yours
- schedule FB posts for you when you have a takeover
- run your Instagram
- run your Twitter
- answer DMs through social media channels
- answer basic emails you get from readers (Note from Vicki: She will probably never let me near her email due to the zero inbox policy. If you’re in her group, you know my emails have zeros after the comma LoL)
- create blog posts for you
- make newsletters for you
- contact winners after a contest
- send prizes to winners
- create spreadsheets, sign up forms, order lists, etc
- process the answers to those forms and only give you the info you need to do something with
- organize book signings
- organize preorders/signed paperback orders
- order swag
- do research on for instance swag, paperbacks, a new program you heard about, you name it
- do research on something related to your book or your story
- make a story bible for a series
- proof audio
- keep track of takeovers for you
- contact blogs about a new release
- run your ARC team
- organize a release party or takeover
- run your FB group
- post in promo groups for you for new releases or backlist promo
- keep an eye out for promotional opportunities
- formatting your books
- running your audio promo codes
- gathering ideas for games and posts in takeovers or in your group
And this is by far not an exhaustive list. As I said, it really depends on what you yourself are strong at and what your PA excels in. Anything visual, Vicki does, for example. I’m not good at it and furthermore, I don’t enjoy it. She does. She’s also really good at coming up with stuff for takeovers, like games and funny things to post. And she rocks at teasers but that’s her design background.
(Vicki note: and yes, that list was exhaustive…well exhausting LoL, from the PA point of view, I’m technically “always on” as in a random article, photos, ideas while showering—because we all know those are where the best ideas come from; I have a running Nora database in my head and even a private Pinterest board where I can pin something that may be useful or entertaining. The most used phrase in my car while driving is, “Hey, Siri? Take a note.” My husband asked me recently if I ever shut my brain off. The easy answer, “No.”)
What Should a PA NOT do?
I wanna discuss this briefly as well. Look, everyone is different and what you delegate to your PA is super depending on how much you trust them. I trust Vicki blind, but there are certain things I wouldn’t ask her to do. Most of those involve things that could have big consequences if they go wrong or things that I feel I can do better or are my task. Take uploading a new book on Amazon, for example. I’m sure Vicki could do this, because it’s really not that hard. But I wouldn’t ask her to because if something goes wrong, it could have big financial consequences for me and I wouldn’t want that weight on her shoulders. (Vicki note: And if she ever did ask me due to some emergency or scheduling issue, I would freak the freak out! I’d do it, but oh my, I would be sweating. I really don’t want that responsibility anymore than she isn’t willing to hand it over.)
Another example, and this is personal, are my ads. I run my own ads on all platforms, (Vicki note: And…you lost me…LoL…as soon as ads enter into the convo, I hear the adult voices from the Peanuts cartoon. Give me the numbers to play in a spreadsheet after they run, and I’m there!) even though Vicki sometimes makes the graphics. I also write the text for my promo posts myself most of the time. That’s because it’s MY book, and no one else has the same passion for it as me. No one else knows how I want readers to see this book, to feel about this book but me. And even though Vicki works her ass off for me, alpha reads all my books, and is one hundred percent on board to help my career, it’s still MY career. They’re MY books. Someone else will never have the same ownership as I do, so I feel these are things I need to do myself. Plus, I’m good at them, though I’m sure Vicki would be as well if I taught her.
I also prefer to contact other authors myself, for instance to ask if I can do a takeover. I rarely ask Vicki to do that, because I want to do the networking myself.
(Vicki note: And this is great for me because the initial contact with someone I haven’t chatted with before, the time or two I’ve had to, is absolutely nerve wracking. I’m reaching out on behalf of Nora, so representing her/her brand. I usually pre-write the few sentences, then proof them, then have a deep breathing session before hitting copy, paste and send. Even reading this part gives me anxiety!)
How to Find a PA
This is where things can get tricky. Broadly speaking, you have two options. You can go for someone who is a professional PA and who works for several authors. The advantage is that you’ll be able to get some recommendations from other authors and that usually, they’re professional and you won’t have to teach them a lot. The downside is that they also work for other authors, so you have to share time and maybe be careful with how much access you give them. If this is the kind of PA you want, your best bet is to ask other authors who they use.
The other option is to have a PA who works for you alone or mostly for you. Because I wanted to ultimately give Vicki full access to almost everything, including my sales stats and finances, I had a good talk with her beforehand whether she intended to work for other authors as well. If she had wanted that, I would not have given her the access she has right now (even though she would never abuse that privilege). I just needed to know if she was on my side, so to speak. She does stuff for my co author at times, but I have no issues with that since she and I share a lot if info anyway, so…
The second category is a lot harder to find, obviously, and it’s also much harder to know whether you can trust someone. Vicki was one of my first readers when I started out, and she messaged me one day with a graphic she’d made for my FB group. We started chatting, she made some more free stuff for me, and after that, I started paying her to make my teasers. Out of that, we discovered we worked really well together so when I was looking for a PA, I approached her first. It helped that she has a similar job in her daily work, so I had a good idea of what she could do.
Our trust developed over time. We started with a three month trial for both of us, just to see if we would work well. That worked out super for both of us, and gradually, I delegated more and more to her. Even now, I’m still finding new stuff for her to do, and she’s dropped a full day of work at her day job to work for me and do more design stuff (she does still design covers and teasers for other authors and obviously, I have zero issues with that). But I didn’t give her full access right away. I gave her small things to do and when she showed she was trustworthy in those, I increased the level of trust so to speak. As a bonus, she and I became best friends…but we’d never met until October 2018 at GRL, and by then, she’d already been working for me for six months, haha. (Vicki note: It’s funny seeing the internal mental dialogue here even though I received a four and a half page, double-spaced, Word doc—in bullet point outline format, to go over before agreeing to and committing to the trial period…btw, I don’t think we did my performance review.)
If you want the second kind of PA, your best option is to look around in your core reader group to see if there’s anyone who fits the bill. It’s how I found my audio proofer as well. Some people say you gotta be careful mixing readers and business, but I think if you do it right, there’s no harm in trying. Go for readers who already have a similar job or background, that will; save you a lot of explaining. Your own acquaintances may be an option as well, but you really want someone who is well versed in the genre and knows the community.
Some Practical Tips on Working With a PA
From our experience, I wanted to share some practical tips on delegating things to a PA and on finding a good partnership:
- It’s just as important how you want things done as wanting them to get done. Make sure your PA understands your brand, your style, your vision, etc. I’ve seen PAs post in author groups that don’t allow promo for example, which reflects badly on the author they represent. You gotta be on the same page there.
- Start with a trial for a defined period so you can end things it it doesn’t work out.
- Use a contract or at least something in writing where you come to an agreement about the financial side of things. Make sure this is ironclad.
- Check beforehand how this will affect your taxes and finances. Most of the times, a PA should invoice you to avoid the appearance of them being on your payroll. Always pay through PayPal or something similar so you have proof (and as an added benefit: if you pay through PayPal you usually don’t have to issue a 1099, but please check if this is true for you as well)
- Pay on time and pay what you owe them. Be a good employer, even to a contractor.
- Vicki note: give clear and precise directions. The PA part of my brain loves lists and knowing exactly what is expected. It also provides an out without having a screw up. I know as soon as I see something, if it is something I can do or am willing to learn to do. If not, we discuss other options or ideas for it. Nora would much rather me say, “I’m clueless here,” than do it and have it wrong or not enough information.
As may be clear from the above, I totally lucked out with my PA, and I credit her for half of my success. I could not have done it without her…and that’s exactly how it should be. When you find the right PA, they will be a partner to you, a right hand. Someone who does the work you shouldn’t do yourself so you can write, market, and network. (Vicki note: since starting as Nora’s PA, it is helping me work toward my goal of leaving my day job slow enough that I don’t feel I’m ditching someone with the work, but quick enough to know that saying, “Yes! Let’s try this!” was a good investment in my future as well.)
I hope this was useful. Hit me up with any questions!
Michelle Sublett says
Omg! This was amazing and actually clarified several things for. I made the decision this year to put my English and Art education to use and thought I would go into Editing. However, this article makes it very clear that what I really want to do is be a PA. Thank you for writing such a comprehensive article.
I know a LOT of authors who are looking for a PA so I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding work.
Toni Regan says
I struggled for ages with no PA, in the end, had to find one that suited, that’s how I found Avril, while I know she works for other authors I am not exclusive I would hope one day I will get there. Happy she is also my editor so things are smoother.
This is a great article, I wish I had seen it ages ago.